All posts by pcostello

NSL # Rule no. 9 “A reaction to a reaction makes for a reactionary world. A response to a response makes for a responsible world. War creates the first and is threatened by the second. “

In the last Rule about curiosity and criticism, we described the way reactions can be triggered in the NSL engagement. Reactions are those moments that escape our control. They seem immediate and automatic. We lose it.

A prominent professor from Harvard wrote a book about negotiation with a set of rules that included “catching yourself” before you get this way and telling yourself “don’t go there.” The rule looks great in theory but he misses the point entirely. Reactions take over the biology. You are there before you even know you were heading there. It could be a look, a word, a joke taken the wrong way, a rebuff, a touch. It seems to set off an explosion that is hugely out of proportion to the trigger.

Reactivity becomes characteristic of the war game that needs to keep people on edge, hyper vigilant, ever ready to defend as to attack. A kid throws a rock at a soldier and in fear for his life, the soldier shoots to kill. That is a reaction. A woman runs towards a checkpoint with a knife screaming about losing her son. That is a reaction. These two events happened in Jerusalem last year when i was there. Your friend posts a picture of a controversial figure on Facebook and you immediately write a snide comment accusing him of treacherous intent. That is a reaction,

Violence becomes this spiral because it is the reaction that provokes a reaction, in a expanding chain of escalation. The boss shouts at the worker, the worker screams at his wife, the wife screams at the kids, the kid kicks the dog. Taking a pause, responding to the reaction, interrupts the cycle.

What NSL asks its fellows to do as part of their self learning and reflection is to test out what makes them reactionary. To name it and observe it as an experiment. The famous therapist and Holocaust survivor, Victor Frankl wrote,

Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Reaction to a reaction makes for a reactionary world. Everyone is on edge, because everyone is enacting a primitive story of kill or be killed. The body thinks the Facebook comment is deadly- or the stone thrown from a mile away is somehow a threat. A response would soon show that this is dangerously crazy thinking. If you want people to hate you, treat them as if they want to murder you. Then, even if they never did, you will have provoked them into acting that way. We have to break this cycle.

Response to a reaction allows time for pause, take a deep breath. Calm your biology, as our Guest Professor and expert in trauma, Mary Fowler says or practice mindfulness, as our Guest Professor Greg Robison teaches the fellows. it is not easy, especially coming from a war zone. But it is absolutely necessary to dwell in that space that Frankl talks about. There lies our growth and our freedom.

NSL # Rule No. 10 “Personal Transformation is not enough.”

“Enemies making friends!” That is an amazing story. it shows redemption is possible, that reconciliation is not a dream. It can and does happen during the NSL summer, and people who see it think- miracles can happen, that this is indeed amazing work. And when these new friendships thrive as they go home, it must all be a factor for the good.

What most people fail to understand are the constraints Fellows face meeting as equals back in Israel and Palestine. It is illegal for Israelis to go to Palestine-West Bank/Gaza, and Palestinians have no permit to come visit Israel. So the reality that NSL is able to create on a neutral territory without walls and checkpoints and threats of resistance is an anomaly, an exception.

That is the reason we bring Fellows to DC, because what happens here cannot happen there. Sometimes even the Fellows resent being reminded of that. One famous SAIS conference, one of our Gazans dared to speak this truth and it created an uproar- because it ruined the party by shattering the illusion. The Fellows and ourselves and our supporters want so hard to believe that NSL has created a new reality that will be sustained. But how can they, in a war zone?

In many ways, our hopes come true, in that the relationship between the Fellows their Host Families and the wider NSL network does endure. In sociological terms, the social capital that NSL creates every summer is amazing. An Israeli and a Palestinian not only forge a relationship here, sharing a home and work place, but each of them is grafted on to 100 plus supportive relationships in the NSL network. Leadership is about connection and NSL is a great mentoring force for that. From the narrative perspective, the Fellows grow a wider audience to their emerging story as new leaders.

We also believe that the Fellows leave with a new relationship to America and the American story. They now see if from inside and get a better picture of how, for good or bad, the world works with the USA as the dominant power. For 21st century leaders, they must have a global perspective to be truly effective in local affairs.

But the innocent and compelling belief that friendships can change war to peace, or occupation to independence is a stretch, and perhaps burdens the fellows with a theory of change that has little chance of realization, at least right now. What is the point of setting graduates up for failure?

The premise that NSL adopts is that change can only happen when the power equation changes and when the meaning system supporting violence unravels. The relationships between the Fellows need to be relations of mutual influence. They must be experiences where Fellows see how they grow power by sharing it, and that if they build trust with their enemy here, that might slowly change perceptions back home when they emerge to positions of leadership. They will know they do have trustworthy partners for change on the other side.

One alumni who worked in the Prime Ministers Department told us that often he had to challenge policies of discrimination against Palestinians because of his personal experience of Palestinian Fellows on NSL. That is where the relationships created over the summer help change the system

The war system creates an embattled and embittering interface between young Israeli and Palestinians in the region and it is usually one of dominance-submission, occupier-occupied. The Israeli is usually armed and in uniform at a checkpoint or on a house raid, and the Palestinian is usually reduced to “begging permission” to travel in their own territory and constantly under threat. The system creates this hostile relational culture.

NSL brings Fellows to Washington DC and throws them together as equals, and invites them to experiment with creating a new reality, even though we know that it is not real, not true to the system that shaped them. But that is the point. Even one exception is enough to challenge the dominant discourse that says, such relationships are impossible and downright dangerous.

Palestinians and Israelis will never cooperate, except when they do- Israelis and Palestinians will never share power, except when they have, Palestinians and Israelis will never share their living space as a people, except when they share a bathroom in Chevy Chase at their Host Family. Creating possibility is a long shell game, but once the possibility exists, it cannot un-exist.

Humans could never fly until one time they did. Human beings could never reach the moon until one time they did. Israelis and Palestinians can never end war and make peace, until one time they did- in Washington DC one summer, on NSL.

NSL # Rule No. 11 ” Those who have power don’t want change. Those who want change don’t have power.”

NSL is often seen as a program that creates contacts between enemies to humanize the other and make relationships that can be the platform for future cooperation. That is the traditional model and in post- conflict zones, it can be extremely effective.

But over 9 years, NSL has learned the hard way that the contact theory does not necessarily apply to a war zone. How do you make friends with someone who might go home and be forced by a military system to grab a knife or fly a plane to kill you. How do you create a business together when you know that with one economy on subsistence and the other a world powerhouse, that any business will reproduce an exploitative inequality.

NSL began after the 2008 war, and has seen off two more, in 2012 and 2014. It is a harsh environment to be running this program.

Israel and Palestine is not post-conflict and unlike Northern Ireland or South Africa, there has not yet even been a ceasefire or a negotiated agreement about how to end the bloodshed. Everyone is talking peace, while no one is first demanding, End the violence. And so it continues.

The Israeli Army’s rule of engagement only makes sense if for them, this is war. Same goes for their assassination policy. And the resistance of an occupied people that is deemed terrorism is also symptomatic of a people under siege or invasion and who know that bombardment, military detention and torture- even of children, is normal. To expect them not to resist is crazy.

NSL believes that change does not happen unless we deal with the question of power and systems of institutionalized inequality and violence. Unless we factor in to our understanding that we are dealing with two generations denied any choice about what kind of future they desire, we will get into the blame game too.

Can you blame an Israeli 18 year old high school graduate conscripted into the army. Of course she is taught that it is her duty to defend their nation, but as Governor Mike Huckabee says, “Armies are only good at two things, to kill people and break things.” We remember writing these notes a few years back and one fellow, an IDF training officer feeling it was disgraceful to accuse soldiers that way. His army was the most moral, committed to peace… and perhaps to distribute flowers!

You only have to get on a crowded tram in Jerusalem and be accidently jabbed by a AK 47 that a kid in IDF uniform has sticking out his back to realize how abnormal this is, and scary.

Can you blame an 18 year old Palestinian living in Gaza, under siege, enduring regular bombardment and unable to move freely, for being angry and wanting to get out or get revenge? Sometimes our NSL family are shocked that Palestinians come across as angry. But when you place yourself in their shoes, how can anyone be surprised? This is war. No one should be happy. If people are not angry, they are missing something.

Change can only happen when power is confronted by power. That means NSL fellows are in the business of growing power and influence to effect change. They come not to make friends but allies. They come to speak their stories not because they want sympathy but stories create power. They come to network to recruit new audiences to their story of possibility. They enact their Project for Change to contradict the story of helplessness and hopelessness.

Those who have power have no incentive to change. And these NSL change makers, though they want change, have to learn the tools that will shift the levers of this killing machine that so dominates all their lives and their futures.

NSL # Rule No. 12 “Don’t Talk About us Without us.”

“If the people most likely to be effected by a story have no voice in it, it is narratively unethical and morally irresponsible.”

When you apply this to our 2018 story world, you suddenly realize how rarely it is observed. The State Department experts tell us what Iran is intending, or the President divines what North Korea really wants, or Congress holds hearings on Womens health and asks the experts- all men! People are repeatedly denied the right to speak for themselves.

Democracy enshrines a fundamental principle about voice and the right of everyone to speak. “Vote” is a word that means vow or promise. When one votes, one makes a pledge, and expresses one’s judgment on an issue or a candidate. All voices are meant to count equally but they are not meant to all sound the same.

When democracy withers into oligarchy, it is the ruler and his family, the inner circle of son in laws and sons and daughters who speak for everyone else. That is how it used to be in the days of Kings and Queens.

When it lurches towards tyranny, voices that disagree are stigmatized and criminalized. The state cannot even tolerate dissenters to cross their borders. Opponents who gain notoriety are soon silenced permanently by prison or death.

When any one is voiced out or voiced over or silenced by threats, then someone is stealing their story, their right to have a say in the their own lives, and a choice in shaping their own destiny. The State tries it all the time. “We know what is good for you.” The Church tries it. “Eat meat on Friday and you will go to hell.” Communism and Fascism perfected it, preaching that Il Duce and the Furhrer knew best. War makes narrative larceny, also known as story-stealing inevitable because as they used to say in World War II, “loose lips sink ships.”

NSL Fellows are present in Washington DC, the nation’s capital, and in the corridors of power in Congress, where every day, lobbyists visit members to insist on certain self-interested policies regarding Israel and Palestine. Ironically most members have never met a real Israeli or Palestinian in their lives, or if they have, no one who currently lives there, and certainly no one under 30 from there. NSL is there to resist, persist and insist-

Don’t talk about us without us.
Don’t talk down to us as if we were children.
Don’t talk over us as if you think you can bully us into submission.
Don’t talk around us as if we were invisible.
Don’t talk policy when all you mean is politics.
Don’t talk like some neutral referee when you keep rigging the game.

We insist on the right to speak for ourselves. We insist on having our say about our future. Don’t talk about us without us. That used to be what democracy meant.

NSL # Rule No. 13 “Its not what you say that gets said, it’s what people think they heard you say.”

“I mean what I say”- is an expression we often hear. It suggests one is a plain spoken person, and that meaning is just as plain. There is no way to confuse the hearer. if only communication were that simple. We might be in control of the words we use when we tell the story, but that is about all, if even that.

The words we use, even those that seem most personal, are all borrowed, on loan from the language we learned to speak. Of all the human tools we use, words are what we inherit as the oldest things around. As Russian scholar Bakhtin used to say- and I paraphrase- “Be careful of the words you use because you don’t know where they have been.” You are using second and third hand goods. People never hear your words the way you hear them.

Someone says “Separation Wall” and someone hears “Apartheid Wall.” Someone says “Terrorist” and someone hears ” Resistance Fighter.” Someone says the Israeli Defense Force IDF and someone hears IOF, Israeli Occupation Force.

Words are the battleground because some words will immediately cause an audience to switch off, move their attention away, check their phones. You have a right to speak. Yes, but they have no duty to listen. We have all mastered the art of politely un-listening. “Yes Dad. I’m sorry Dad. I won’t crash the car again Dad. Blah Blah Blah:”

NSL Fellows will get the chance to speak before their fellows, and the rare chance to speak before members of Congress and other important audiences in Washington DC. Before every major event, the team rehearse and serve one another as a focus group for each presentation. What a fellow learns, sometimes the hard way, is that while it matters what you want to say, what matters more is what you want your audience to hear.

If you hear truth and they hear propaganda or incitement, then you have failed. If your story makes you feel compassion for your comrade dead in war, but that enrages some of your audience who were his victims, you may need to find another story. If they hear confusion and you hear yourself being very clear, you better unconfuse yourself. Sometimes a Fellow will insist that the word or story he uses HAS to mean for the audience what it means for him. But it doesn’t. Meaning is not in anyone’s control. No dictionary ever dictates one word to have one meaning alone. Only dictators try to do that.

NSL is about teaching the trinity of communicative competencies. There is:

what you mean to say,
what you actually say,
and what gets heard.

If what the audience heard is not what you said, and what you said is not what you meant to say, then all we get is communicative chaos. Wars thrive on such chaos. The antidote is to listen to the listening, to how you are being heard. That is truly an art of leadership.

Reminds of one of my mother’s little stories, about the Sargeant sending the message back to HQ, ” Going to advance, send re-enforcements” and by the time it got there, down the chain of command, it had become “Going to a dance, send three and fourpence.”

NSL # Rule No 14 “Tell the story to create the listening. Listen to create the telling.”

We usually place the responsibility of communication on the teller and train people to tell stronger, clearer stories. “Get to the point” we insist. But what if we understood communication as a space, inhabited by the dynamic of teller and listener? What if the power of one is contingent on the other.

What if the listener was the one who drew out the best stories, and the quality of the story invariably reflected the quality of the listening? What if part of the responsibility of the storyteller was to create the listening that the story most needed? If no one is listening, could that also be the fault of the teller? This way, we create a richer understanding of what goes into the power of a story.

In a war zone, the sound of violence makes for a vigil of deafness. Everyone is on guard. It is listening with the gates to the heart padlocked. No one is going to penetrate there. It is too dangerous. The experience of an explosion is that it is an overwhelming sound event. People have to listen. And while they know the violence and the pain, the perpetrator often does it to make the victim feel the same pain as he does. “Now they will understand loss” “Now they will have to listen to me.”

Violence in every shape and form is an expression of and a form of non-listening. If we accept that, then listening is the greatest act against violence given to humankind.

The storyteller creates the listener. The Listener creates the storyteller. If no one is there to listen, there is no story. What’s more, if no one is listening, then war is inevitable. As Jesus once said, “They have eyes to see with but they do no see, and they have ears to hear with but they do not hear.”

NSL # Rule No. 15 ” Stories are a non-violent exercise of asymmetrical power.”

Nations measure dominance militarily more than narratively. Count up the number of subs and nukes, or tanks and planes, guns and soldiers and we know who we can defeat. While armies claim victories, win territory, and ultimately prevail in battle, the final measure of success is how the story gets told. Try as they might, armies can’t control what they mean.

If a victory comes to mean that lives were lost for nothing, then they will have lost the war they won. If the war saved the land but made the homeland more damnable than before, no army can fix that. Lets look at some case studies.

Militarily, the US were winning the war in Vietnam. The Tet Offensive almost wiped out the North Vietnamese fighting forces. But the USA lost because the dominant story did not match the strength of their dominant army. The story became one of My Lai massacres and quagmire and the Pentagon papers expose of wholesale government deception.

Take the rich versus the poor- who has the better story? Jesus used one of his parables about Dives the wealthy man, and Lazarus the beggar, and demonstrated that comfort and luxury are no narrative match for the story of deep and desperate human tragedy. Dying because you ran out of chardonnay and caviar is no match for dying for lack of water and being starved in goal. Buddha’s story of enlightenment carries the same message. The religious traditions all teach that “God hears the cry of the poor, not the powerful,” and that there can be no justice without mercy, Hesed, Rahmah, Misericordia.

Israel and Palestine are a David and Goliath battle. In terms of military might, there is no contest. David might have stones but hardly a sling shot. But not on NSL, because here is a new dispensation of power. NSL’s Story to Story creates a different playing field.

One Fellow can tell of a 1000 year history of tragedy and hatred and pain, 6 million murdered in the Holocaust, and a tale of longing finally resolved in the creation of a homeland, a sanctuary of return, that welcomes the Jewish diaspora and now leads the world in innovation. This story of overcoming is a modern miracle of a people who battled the odds and won. It echoes one of the deepest human stories of homeland lost and found, and from it can come a deep hearted appeal to Shalom- “Let us all live in peace.” But the question persists “At what price do we defend our achievement and who pays the price for our peace?”

Another Fellow can tell of being shot and imprisoned, haunted and humiliated at a check point, of grandparents being murdered and dispossessed, 6 million refugees, and of repeated failed attempts at negotiation that seemed to end, and then incite more violence. This is a story of such intense pain, from which can spring a deep hearted appeal of Inshallah “Won’t God or anyone listen or care? Stop killing us. Don’t we have a right to our home too?”

Army to army, economy to economy, power to power, there is no comparison. Power is totally asymmetrical. But story to story, people are leveled to the same human plane. Stories cannot create a normalization program. They are intrinsically asymmetrical.

Who can truthfully tell the most honest and humanly captivating story? Who can move hearts and minds and capture consciences?

NSL coaches it Fellows to leave the propaganda and endless debates behind. An honest story will refute cheap answers. It will raise more fundamental questions.

The story that reaches deep into our hearts and memories is one that witnesses to the human condition that we all share. If history is any guide, the human story finally wins. The proud are humbled, the rich are laid low, the walls of hatred are torn down, tyrants are driven out and the citadel is reduced to ashes.

Posterity preserves this lesson- that all who act as dictators and gods, heartlessly murdering lives and destroying the fate of their fellow human beings are the ones that die inside because they murder their own souls, their humanity. Even if they create an empire, all empires built by the sword, as Jesus taught, will surely die by the sword.

We leave the guns and tanks and knives and stones behind. Violence never wins. Our weapons are stories because the story of power boils down to the power of a story.

NSL # Rule No. 16 “Its never just another story.”

If war’s battleground is not won or lost in the trenches or the factories but in the battle over meanings, then EVERY story is a suspect. There is never an innocent story-not in a family, not in an election, and most certainly, not in a war zone. Never in a war zone!

Someone tells you a story for a reason. It does not matter who or what. That means every book we read, and every museum we enter, we must go knowing that ‘the truth” that is told to us there is never disinterested, never unattached from someone’s agenda. Why spend millions of dollars on a Womens or an African American or a Holocaust Museum on the Mall if not to share a particular view.

Israel and Palestine wage war at the checkpoints and separation walls but every act of aggression or defense has to be armed with a story, to make sense.

One side has “God” on their side, a promised land, an exodus, and an almost apocalyptic event- the awful coming to the edge of racial extinction by the evil design of those who refused to accept their Jewishness as human. The weight of these stories carry so much of the cultural DNA of Western Civilization that evolved from Judeo-Christian roots. When one new nation can harness such story power, and defend itself from critics with the oldest claim to manifest destiny, the war of narratives would seem over before it has begun. Who can compete with such narrative tonnage?

The other side has a God whose prophet visited the Holy Place once on a night journey, but never deigned to give his followers any exclusive right to this or any land. (Bad move) There is no Moses or exodua, no yearly passover yearning for return. The reason is simple. This semitic people, and their ancestors lived and tilled this land of Palestine without any major modern catastrophe till the 1930’s and 1940’s. Then came their moment of apocalypse, brought to the edge of extinction by the evil will of powers that refused to accept Arabs as human. Their exodus was aborted.

They do not look back 3000 years but 70 years, still within living memory. They are still wondering in the desert where bombs instead of manna fall from the sky. The Messiah they anointed got crucified, never to rise again. All they know is Pharaoh and his army still in violent pursuit, and intergenerational exile, still hoping for the waters to part. Most of the remnants of their memory have been paved over with highways and National Parks. They have a story that is always in danger of being obliterated afresh.

So long as this story power remains reflective of the asymmetry of the armies, or economies, the war will continue with one kingdom pulverizing another into silence. But when the oppressed wake up, and determine that their suffering is both their weapon and their witness, they will discover stories to be the final instrument of their liberation.

They will tell stories to bind the world into a coalition of conscience. The people who demanded of the world “Never Again” will now have the world make that same demand of them, and the world will finally turn from the shame of its neglect.

NSL # Rule No 17 “If the story is mis-formed, everything that follows is so misinformed that facts lie.”

Isaac Newton had some great ideas like gravity, and some that were a little weird. One was “ether” that explained transmission of light and energy and germs. When people got sick, the “ether” carried the disease and so one went to the mountains or the beach where the air was purer. The story formed the way the facts got lined up. After a few centuries, no one could ever prove “ether” existed. As an explanation, the facts kept pointing to something else. Later someone discovered germs and washing hands and sneezing. “Ether” was a story infection of the mind that blinded us to seeing what caused the infection of the body. Even now in our language, something that is “etherial” is usually something that transports you to an unprovable reality.

When you start with the wrong story, though the facts be true, they get fitted into a false narrative which makes the facts lie. Lets take a few notorious examples.

After 9-11, the President determined that this was the opening salvo on a war of good versus bad, and that the axis of evil had to be stopped. It was a clash of civilizations and the attack was because they hate our freedom and our values. If that is how the President formed the story of the attack, it formed the story of nation’s disastrous response. Attacking people with the wrong understanding of how we trigger their hostility makes us prone to creating the very enemy we fear. The surest way to make an enemy is to treat somebody as one.

Once the story was formed, the facts served as willing tools of the conspiracy. The Story filled in the gaps we did not know, and made the facts we did know into lies. They were made to mean what they could never mean. Secretary of State Colm Powell at the UN showed Saddam Hussein’s trucks moving nuclear missiles, when it was a caravan for launching weather balloons. it was all hot air. Fake news is what governments are specialists at. The media are only just catching up. President Trump is right, but his beef is that networks now do it better than he does.

Israel and Palestine in 1948 was a civil war
that was not a ciivl war,
over an underpopulated land
that was well populated with 700,000 plus diverse inhabitants,
for the right of return of Jewish people
who had never been to Palestine ever, but who were given rights to settle over the rights of the indigenous peoples, who had lived there for 100’s if not thousands of years. (Philistines sounds suspiciously like Palestinians).

This all takes place because the Bible said that this was their land, given by God who curiously, started off being Jewish and then Christian and then Muslim. When God was asked to produce validating evidence supporting the promise, he just said, read my books. I don’t do book signings these days.

1948 was storied as the triumphant return of the exodus people to a “nation” they had won and lost 2000 years before, ( Kings David and Solomon ruled a united kingdom for 80 years, the bible says) and whose passover memory had become a dominant myth in the dominant faith, Christianity. For the dispossessed local Arab people, it was like a pogrom, a ghettoization of them as a people, set apart because of their race. They were not the chosen race, so they did not have rights to the promised land that they had lived in all their lives. That might have sounded a totally familiar story to their conquerors, had these refugees remembered what they had barely survived a few years before. But the creation of a new nation needs a certain sort of selective remembering and forgetting.

This conflict, like most conflicts, is fought in pursuit of untruths. It is hard to name one war fought over what was truly true. WWi, WWII, Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq-none of the core rationales for starting the killing proved to be true in the end. Yet lies acted upon have a way of becoming true. This story of righteousness and legitimacy is core to building support for your cause.

In our Middle East case study, what happens if the story is all wrong from the start. Once the story is formed, pretending to be true, but propagating only a partisan view, inconvenient facts are not allowed to speak for themselves with all their untidy contradictions. What if some land selling Arabs saw profit in the Zionist project and some of the most prominent Jews strongly opposed it? What if the Western Wall is the remnant of a Temple built by Herod whose mother was Arab? What if early Zionists considered building a Holy Land in Africa? What if the Middle East is the product of empires intrigue, and despite the myths, not the liberation struggles of any one people? What if Israelis and Palestinians are both anciently semitic and yet, both distinctly modern inventions?

When we smooth out the plot to make it coherent, as we must in war, we have a mis-formed story that makes us and everything else we think we know misinformed. We speak true lies.

Taking this approach, NSL sees little value in arguing over the facts, or whose version of affairs matters or which is truly true. What we need to do is ask,
How is the current way we are telling the story contributing to the war?
What stories do we need to stop telling?
What stories do we need to start telling?
What story is the “ether” of Israel Palestine?
What story form will allow us to better apprehend the reality?
How do we re-form the story so we are all better informed?
How do we allow the facts to reveal the complex and contradictory patterns that we will not see when all we see is Newton’s “ether.”

The facts point away, but we keep fixated on what is not there. If the story is mis-formed, everything else is misinformed.

NSL # Rule No 18 “Thanks for not helping!”

When someone else offers to help, or wants to tell our story, even for the most noble of reasons, we have to wake up to the cunning oppression of benevolence. People can literally kill us with their kindness. Its not about good intentions. The road to hell is paved with them. Its about the oppressed empowering themselves and refusing to let anyone else lead their fight to be free.

Man can support women, and whites can be allies of blacks and straights can empower gays, but if men and whites and straights save women, blacks and gays, who remain the saviors of the story? it is the familiar story of neo-colonialism. We liberate you so we can exploit you even more.

Or as often seems to happen in Israel Palestine, we will attack you within an inch of your life, and then evacuate you to one of our world class hospitals to save you. Your story will honor our mercy, but deep down, all it witnesses to is the power we have over whether you live or die.

Even when the oppression becomes extreme and stirs all consciences, inspires flotillas, creates boycott campaigns, people don’t realize their help can be as lethal as the malice they are opposing. Helping or hindering, their power is still a “power over.” As Fanon and others have said, if the slaves do not free themselves, their freedom is owed to someone else. Freedom to be real is the product of an agent acting in his own story.

As Barbara Myerhoff said, the first act of liberation for any oppressed peoples is to grab back their story. If the source of the dominant tellings that inflict the harm and offer the help are the same, it is a sign that the oppressed have even outsourced their liberation. Paulo Freire insists that the oppressor can never save the oppressed. The oppressed must save themselves, and it is only they who can save the oppressor.

Thanks for not helping. We are here to take our story back.
Thanks for shutting up and allowing us to speak.
Thanks for stepping back- Thanks for making us step forward.